But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand – miles of them — leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues — north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale, 1851

I’m a little embarrassed to lug around my current summer novel. It looks a little pretentious to pull out  Moby-Dick at the beach. And yet, it turns out to be the perfect read for an Outer Caper.

My neighbor and I read the new translation of War and Peace together last summer. A tremendous experience for us both. When we saw each other in June (we are both summer people), we talked about what we would tackle together this year. We agreed we wanted another novel.  It had to be something difficult, something that we wouldn’t take on by ourselves, something that would mean more to us for having read it together. Another Russian? James Joyce? We settled on Moby-Dick. Neither of us had read it in decades. We wondered what we would find this time between the covers of this ponderous tome.

I’m slow to get started, since I spent so much of July reading Outer Cape history — but that history is informing my appreciation of the novel in ways I wouldn’t have expected. What struck me first as I opened the book was the description of a class of people who are drawn to the “extremest limit of the land” — the sort of people who, like Ishmael, are thoughtful and need to be at ocean’s edge, leaning into the wildness of the sea. What an apt description of us Outer Capers (especially in August, when we inlanders — leagues of us — arrive by Rte. 6).

One of the things I love best about Wellfleet is the kindredness I feel with so many here. We share a sensibility, a simultaneously anti-social and social desire to be alone together. Melville describes it beautifully.  My neighbor washes ashore again later this week. I can’t wait.


Outermost Souls

Seals in the ocean

bobbing diving near sand’s edge

Outermost souls, all.

Mapping Values

Truro, 1830

Truro, 1830

There are (at least) two ways to look at the three dozen maps and map replicas currently on display at the Truro Historical Museum.  People who study maps as historical documents argue about which way is best.  Me, I’m not doctrinaire.  The most important thing is to slow down enough to pick up on clues.  Those clues help me imagine how the land and sea have changed (one way of looking)  They also tell me how people living long ago on the Outer Cape saw themselves and what they thought about their place in the world (the other way of looking).

Chet Lay, Land Surveyor, Much later Plan Prepared for Court Case

Chet Lay, Land Surveyor, Much later Plan Prepared for Court Case

My favorite map in the modest exhibit is from 1830.  It’s a map of Truro Township from 1830, maker unknown.  A beige square – 1 ½ feet high x 1 ½ feet wide — the map shows Pamet Harbor and the Atlantic shore, and a mix of geographical and built features.  Little boxes marking dwellings.  Symbols for 8 separate schools plus an “Academy.”  Parallel lines marking footbridges over Pamet River.  Winding lines noting a county road winging out to the Atlantic and back into town. Symbols denoting: two windmills, a church, a gristmill.

Early Map of Truro, 1845, Joshua Davis, Courtesy
Early Map of Truro, 1845, Joshua Davis, Courtesy

All these details serve as evidence that Truro, in 1830, looked different from the way it looks these days.  This, you say, isn’t exactly a surprise.  Other maps in the collection do a better job than this one in highlighting exactly which features have changed. The makers of this unassuming map from 1830 wanted the world to know that Truro was a place where people cared about education (9 total schools!) and had the tools to live in relative ease.  They had built themselves the trappings of modern life which allowed them to grind their own meal, ford rivers in flood, and get around on a road running continuously through town.


John Raymond Dyer, Land Surveyor, Proposed Cottage Colony at

John Raymond Dyer, Land Surveyor, Proposed Cottage Colony at Beach Point, 1931


I like the things the mapmakers in 1830 valued about their town on the Outer Cape.  A later map from 1880 lists the name of the owner of every dwelling in town.  In 1830, that was less important than documenting that there were dwellings and where they were placed.  If you have time to pop in at the museum, look at the maps for clues about change over time.  Change in the land and water.  Change in values.  And let me know what you find.

Dear Tobey



Dear Tobey,

Sorry I was Off Cape when you visited Provincetown last week.  Had I known you’d be accompanying your person, I’d have stuck around and given you a tour of the fire hydrants.  Next time.

First things first: I like your snazzy red collar, but I’m not sure how I feel about the governor not wearing one, too.  The white T/blue striped polo combo confused me.  My person says we should spiff up for important events. She makes her male people put on neckties, which they don’t much like, but I tell ’em, hey, try wearing a pinch collar.  Didn’t Governor Patrick think coming to P’town was important?  Or was he just thinking something like: Casual Friday Lobster Roll Salt Water Taffy Penuche Vanilla Chocolate Softserve Swirl?

I mean, Governor Patrick sounded pretty serious about problems on the Outer Cape when my person and I watched the YouTube video of him answering a bunch of questions from serious people with what seemed like serious concerns.  He used words like “marvelous” and “charming” when he was talking about home rule, but maybe he was really just thinking something like: Striper Season Started Two Weeks Ago!

I’m really glad the governor wanted to talk about the “creative economy,” but I was wondering if what he really meant was “create an economy.”  You know, the kind of economy that brings in kibble in January, not just July?  The kind of economy that doesn’t need seasonal workers and supports dogs and their people year-round?  The kind of economy where the phones and computers work all the time?  The kind of economy that makes people sit’n’stay’n’wear neckties?

Well, pup, send me a peemail next time you’ll be out.  I’ll meet you at Twisted Sister for a vanilla cone, and then we can head to the Bark Park.

Wags –


Baleen v. Antlers?

Town Square, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Town Square, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

A silver lining on a quick trip this week to Jackson Hole, Wyoming: the rental car agency I’d booked with went belly up, giving me a chance to question locals as I rode public transport. My chats with a shuttle bus driver, two taxi drivers, the manager of a motel, a homeless man, and a seasonal worker from Jamaica shed light on a vacation paradise similar in striking ways to the Outer Cape except in one way: it’s doing pretty well in the recession.  Here’s a bit of what I learned:

There is no industry except for tourism.  People come from all over the world to visit Grand Teton National Forest and nearby Yellowstone.  Single greatest reason people move to the area? “Scenery.”  The town of Jackson has a year-round population of about 10,000.  Jackson’s the seat of Teton County (4,008 square miles), whose year-round population is about 20,000.  Those numbers swell by about 52,000 in the summer, as tourists and second-home-owners journey to Wyoming and Montana.  The numbers rise in the winter when about 5,000 venture to the area to ski.  Those who stay year-round take care of the tourists and the ballooning second-home market.

Most of the land is publicly owned. Ninety-seven percent of the land in Teton County is publicly owned.  Conservationists have carefully guarded the other three per cent, blocking massive development.

Housing costs are of the highest in the nation. Estimated median house or condo values in and around Jackson in July hovered around $600,000.  There is no affordable housing.  Year-rounders said rentals start at $1,200 per month, not including utilities.  Minimum wage seasonal workers rely on employers to provide subsidized housing.

There’s a shortage of seasonal workers. Employers use agencies on the internet to recruit summer help.  These agencies vet applicants and handle visas. The workers come from all over the world, although this year, many are from Ukraine.

Unemployment rates have dropped this summer. May = 6.4%.  Jun = 4.8%.  Why?  Seasonal workers.  Last summer, the unemployment rate hovered at around 1.9%.

Why aren’t things as bad in Jackson as they are on the Outer Cape?

There’s a winter tourist season.  Ski Truro?

There are several large national parks with picturesque wildlife in the area.  Grand Teton, alone, draws between 3 and 4 million animal-happy visitors a year.  Import elk and bears to the Cape?

No personal or state income tax in Wyoming.  Right.

The largest slice of Jackson’s small, rural population falls between the ages of 30 and 44, and it is growing.  They have kids.  ‘Nuff said.

Getting Here

A friend visited last week from Martha’s Vineyard.  She has grown children and grandchildren in Texas and New York.  Her New Yorkers tell her it’s easier for them to fly to Europe than to get to her on the Vineyard.  The new ferry traversing Long Island Sound provoked seasickness and isn’t for them.  Transportation.  It’s an issue now for people on the Cape and Islands.  And it was an issue way back when the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth.  I’m thinking about transportation this week and have some fun facts to share:

White settlers talked about constructing a canal between the “mainland” and the Cape from first landfall in the 1620s.  Surveyors investigated the possibility of cutting a canal during the War of Independence.  Nineteenth-century financier August Belmont created the Cape Cod Canal Company to carry out the project.  Workers, mostly Nova Scotians from Off Cape, finished the job in 1914.  The federal government bought the canal in 1928, hired WPA workers to dig a deeper, safer waterway, and put them to work building  new bridges (Bourne and Sagamore in 1935) during the Great Depression.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the canal today.

Early visitors to the Cape came overland by foot and by horse.  By the mid-nineteenth century, they also came on trains.  In 1854, tourists rode the Cape Cod Railroad as far as Yarmouthport and Hyannis.  They could get as far as Orleans by 1865, to Wellfleet by 1872, and then all the way to Provincetown in 1873.  Trains then went south along Buzzard’s Bay to Falmouth and from Dennis through Harwich and Chatham in 1887.  Tourist destinations clustered around these rail depots.  Wealthy summer residents came by train to stay in exclusive hotels, which offered elaborate meals and entertainment.

Everything changed in the 1920s with the advent of the car.  The Commonwealth started paving roads in the 1890s to accommodate bicyclists.  That’s when workers laid asphalt for the Old King’s Highway (running between Bourne and P’town) and what is now Rte. 28.  Routes 6 and 6A came into being in the first decade of the twentieth century. Once middle-class visitors could drive and venture off the beaten path, they rented cottages or built small houses away from the main Mid Cape tourist destinations.

The first traffic jams on the Cape were in the 1930s.  In 1909 but 75 cars were on Upper Cape roads on a single summer day.  By 1936, that number had increased to 55,000.  I’m guessing even more drivers are on the road this time of year on major Cape thruways.

Roadside Wrecks

I’m back in Wellfleet after a few days off-Cape visiting one of my kids in Maine.  My drive started just fine – I sailed out Rte. 6 and over the Sagamore Bridge.   Then I sat on the highway south of Boston due to a car accident, on the highway south of the tolls going into Maine because of a car accident, and then on the highway south of Portland due to…a car accident.  Roadside wrecks.  You’d think people were having trouble driving and texting.  What should have been a 5 ½-hour drive took almost 9 hours.  Rescue workers and police had so much trouble clearing the last jam that I had time to finish a crossword puzzle.  And I’m not that fast at crossword puzzles.

The drive got me thinking about transportation and the Outer Cape.  How did routes 6 and 6A come to be?  When were they paved, and who paved them?  What about the Cape Cod Canal?  Who dug it?  And the bridges?  Who built them?  Long-time residents may know the answers to many of my questions, but I don’t, so I’m reading a handful of books this week to learn more.  Today I’m skimming William James Reid’s privately printed 1961 work, “The Building of the Cape Cod Canal.”  Nifty photos.  I’ll be posting to share what I glean.

I’m interested in transportation nowadays, too, and want to understand better the role cars play on the Outer Cape.  Is anybody living car-free in the Outer Space who’d like to talk with a trusty radio reporter?  Anybody who rides The Flex or the ferry and wants to talk?  Send me your thoughts, reading suggestions, or offers of conversation through “comments.”